Tag Archives: Theatre 503

Br’er Cotton – 5 Stars


Br’er Cotton


Reviewed – 12th March 2018


“Michael Ajao’s performance is astounding”


A 15 year old boy dreams of revolution, while his mother struggles to keep their family afloat in Theatre503’s production of Tearrance Arvelle Chisholm’s Br’er Cotton. Tackling racism and poverty in contemporary America, it was shortlisted for both the Theatre503 Playwriting Award  and the Relentless Award.

I don’t know where to start with this review, mainly because I am still trying to catch my breath. Br’er Cotton is one of the most powerful pieces of theatre I have seen in a very long time. Yes, it tackles some heavy duty themes – it has a very big point to make and it’s not shy about making it. But Chisholm is a writer that understands the best way to make an audience think, is firstly to make them feel. Instead of labouring its point, this play focuses on family – single mother Nadine struggling to support son Ruffrino and father Matthew – and what it means to belong. Their relationships are real – they banter, they bicker and they rile each other. It’s warm and most importantly it’s funny. You fall in love with these characters. Fundamentally these are people trying to live good lives in difficult circumstances. It’s the pull to do the right thing, even if they disagree on what that is, which ultimately defines this family, and which makes their situation all the more unjust.

Ruffrino is constantly undermined, told he doesn’t matter and shown that his life is disposable. With Grandfather Matthew seeming to accept his lot late in life, and mother Nadine hiding her aspirations, their efforts to reason and placate his growing resentment simply fuels the fire. Even his safe space, his world of video games where the zombies are much easier to deal with, gets infiltrated by Redneck_Swag. This is not about being exposed to one racist incident, this is about being trapped in a world where you are fundamentally treated as being inferior, as an outsider by birth. What does it mean to be a strong, proud man when that is your reality? That is the question Ruffrino struggles with. Michael Ajao’s performance is astounding;  more than once I had to hold myself in my seat, because the feeling of frustration and entrapment is so palpable that you want to get up and comfort this kid. Ajao hits every beat of Ruffrino’s conflict with intelligence and naivety. His turmoil is heartbreaking as it builds to an ending that, while you see it coming, still knocks the air out of your lungs.

Kiza Deen’s Nadine is the back bone of the narrative, a woman whose pride extends to every floor she mops. Loving and supportive, Deen’s performance is equally impressive, injecting delicacy into a character that is defined by strength. Her relationship with Alexander Campbell’s police officer is beautifully understated, a contrast to the bold, brash friendship between Ruffrino and Caged_Bird99 (Ellie Turner). Trevor A Toussaint’s lovable curmudgeon Matthew takes on an equally poignant role, as the man whose age has made him ridiculous rather than respected. With Nadine trapped in the present, Ruffrino looks to the future, Toussaint grounds them both in the sense of what has been, or more accurately what has not changed. In terms of production values, this is Theatre503 at its finest. Jemima Robinson’s design is simple yet striking, incorporating both the past and present. Roy Alexander Weise’s direction is flawless. This is an exceptional piece of work. Br’er Cotton is yet another jewel in 503’s crown, proving yet again that they are the true home of new writing.


Reviewed for thespyinthestalls.com

Photography by Helen Murray


Br’er Cotton

Theatre503 until 31st March



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Her not Him – 3 Stars

Her not Him

Her not Him

Theatre 503

Reviewed – 30th January 2018


“the relationships all seemed forced and lacking the genuine intimacy to make them believable”


Girl meets girl in Joanne Fitzgerald’s Her Not Him, a romantic drama with a transvestite twist. Produced by Lughnacy Productions, this is the story of Bea, a woman who has grown bored of her younger lover, and her attraction to Jemima, a transvestite who gatecrashes her birthday party. Set to a salsa rhythm, the play tackles issues of gender, sexual attraction and maturity, it’s Fitzgerald’s debut full length play, enjoying a short week run at Theatre 503.

It’s a very promising start. The script is warm and witty, presenting its characters with affection and depth. The production has a clear agenda, but doesn’t get bogged down trying to make a grand statement. Jemima is who she is unapologetically with no need to defend or politicise her choices, and is a far stronger champion for gender equality and acceptance for it. Older woman Bea, faces the conundrums of a single woman reaching a certain age – she doesn’t want to be alone and she wants to have fun, the type of fun that is more easily shared with younger partners, who have yet to want what Bea has already put aside. Her relationship with Ellie is doomed from the outset, not by Ellie’s immaturity, but by Bea’s inability to accept her for who she is, either now or in the future.

Unfortunately, this production still feels unfinished. The cast all do a spirited job – John James gives a charming and naïve turn to the otherwise feisty Jemima, Leah Kirby is a lively, fun and slightly ridiculous Ellie while Orla Sanders stoical Bea keeps the show grounded – but the production lacks connection. They inhabit their own skins, but aren’t quite comfortable with each other yet. The direction does not help them. Amy Lawrence has given the play a lovely rhythm and the set choreography is impressive. But the effect is a little too clinical, highlighting the lack of emotion and the salsa section serves to tell the audience what we should be feeling, rather than heightening what we already are. It’s telling, not showing, too often; as a result the relationships all seemed forced and lacking the genuine intimacy to make them believable.

On the whole, I feel like I’ve seen this show prematurely. It still needs time to bed in, get comfy and enjoy its rough edges. Perhaps after a week, when it’s found its feet it will be on stronger ground. It certainly has all the right elements. It just needs the right chemistry.


Reviewed for thespyinthestalls.com


Her not Him

Theatre 503 until 3rd February



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